Most people find themselves envying their neighbors for their fancy cars, the expensive vacation they went on, or their big Tv. We see what others have and what we don't and think I will have one of these when I can.
It is part of being human to think this way. The reason is that we carelessly pursue more and more things that are driven by the instability of want. A part of our humanity we simply can't separate with.
Today's Western capitalistic society suffers from the fundamental desire for more. While once this was seen as evil in early civilizations, this insatiability became the ideal we must pursue if we are considered successful.
But how much money do you need to make? And how have modern capitalism and the love of money and wealth formed over the last 250 years?
Why do we still work 40 hours a week?
Imagine you live in a world where you spend most of your time doing things you enjoy and work only if you want to. Sound amazing, right? Well, this is exactly what economist James Maynard Keynes predicted 100 years ago would be happing in the near future.
In an essay in 1928, Keynes predicted in 100 years, Western socies would obtain so much wealth that they now needed to work not more than 3 hours a day.
Indeed obtained wealth and technological development have increased work efficiency so much that all our material needs could be easily satisfied without needing to work more.
A life of rewarding leisure should already be possible for everyone. But most of us still work very hard to meet our needs and struggle to find the time to relax.
While Keynes was accurate in his prediction that the average annual income per household would increase, his forecast of a 15-hour work failed miserably.
The 15-hour workweek hasn't caught on because of the unequal accumulation and distribution of wealth over the last decades. Where wealth heavily shifted in the hands of the few while the masses still work 40 hours a week or more just to make enough.
For example, the richest one percent in the USA receives about 18 percent of the national income. Even those who could afford a life of luxury and leisure often still work over 40 hours a week to pursue greater wealth.
The advancements in work automatization due to technological innovation in the 20 century haven't been a blessing as Keynes hoped. In fact, it is the opposite; these innovations helped produce a huge army of underpaid service contractors.
But why did Keynes's predictions fail so miserably?
The problem of wanting more money
How often do you replace things like a smartphone or your car? Do you do it because you must? Or because you want to get the newest technology?
The answer to these questions reveals the fate of the 15-hour workweek. To gather more goods we have to continue working to afford them.
That tendency to constantly get new goods is known as the insatiability of wants. It is rooted in our psychology as some psychologists argue that our constant want for more is driven by the desire to kill the boredom felt by wealthy societies.
In comparison, Sociologists argue that reason is a relative to wants. It means that the people always want the things they don't have and that others have or to distinguish themselves as something that no one else has.
Capitalism acts as fuel for this hunger. The capitalistic market competition drives firms to produce new products and advertises want through marketing.
You never have enough money under capitalism. In the past, a banker might have bought one real estate and then retired to a leisure life. In a capitalist society, a banker would more likely speculate on the estate and expand his fortune by buying even more real estate in his old age.
The monetization of the economy has made all goods and services exchangeable for money. Capitalist societies developed an obsession with money that affects the relativity of wants.
We value things in terms of cost rather than quality while caring only about what is worth compared to someone else's goods.
This phenomenon can be seen in our language, where we talk about education as an "investment " instead of a path toward self-edification.
But where did those capitalistic leads actually come from?
The pursuit of wealth
Throughout history, discoveries and observations have been that altered the course of human thought. The science of economics developed in a way that downplays greed as self-interest.
It may be surprising, but long ago, working for money was considered a shameful but necessary evil to sustain oneself and archive comfort in life.
However, around 500 years ago, in the writing of Niccolo Machiavelli, the pursuit of personal wealth began to gain favors as was the best guarantee to both govern people and secure social freedom.
Then in the late 18the century, Adam Smith wrote that humans live for their desire for self-improvement in free unrestricted competition. And he believed that free competition severs public well-being led by an invisible hand.
Smith is one of the founders of modern economics and contributed a big part to the shift in our understanding of work. As a result, economics encouraged selfishness as fundamental to thrive in social life.
While earlier wealth was a necessary evil, suddenly, it became an end in itself around the Industrial Age. The shift led to many creative but also a lot of destructive forces, ultimately forming devil bargain.
The pursuit of wealth during the Industrial Revolution brought many important technological innovations. However, it made the downside of chasing wealth very obvious.
A person's new wealth comes at the expense of others. The wealth in the hands of a few was balanced by masses of impoverished workers poorly paid and lacking high quality of life.
Similar to Faust, who promises to trade his soul for infinite wisdom, we bargain with the devil by accepting the evil of selfish struggle for the sake of wealth.
What is the purpose of money?
The values of modern economics are not without consequences. In the quest to acquire wealth, we have forgotten that wealth should be a means to an end
Accumoitling wealth and pursuing self-interest was once mainly understood by subsites. But when it was accepted as the fundamental purpose of our existence, it made it impossible not to see wealth as an end in itself.
Because all our goals can be seen as what others have or accomplish, it is almost impossible to give up the pursuit of money. There is always someone with more and, therefore, always more to get—the struggle to keep up continues through life.
When we have thrown the concept "enough" out of the window, then there is nothing that tells us to stop collecting more wealth. Why stop at owning three cars if you can have five?
In recent decades political and economic theories undermined our chances as citizens in which we have enough of anything.
While prioritizing automation has helped us come closer to creating a fair and equal society, it also allowed us to change our own concept of good, often forgetting what we may know as innately good to serve our pursuit of what we may consider wealthy. This can be religiously motivated terrorism or Neonazism, for example.
It makes it impossible to define what ethical goal getting more and more might possibly fulfill. These ethics have been reduced to an individual right of self-determination without any great purpose. In other words, you can freely pursue as much wealth as possible because "why not?"
What happiness means for us
In modern times happiness is often assumed as the ultimate goal of all our efforts. But do we even know what happiness means?
The ancient Greek word eudaimonia, commonly translated as happiness, was not a subjective state of mine but rather living admirable and honorably according to objective criteria.
The meaning of happiness has been narrowed down over time from a socially agreeable way of life to a subjective assessment of how we feel.
The shift turned into happiness is understood as a result of actions that serve individuals' self-interests or guarantee them extra pleasure over pain at all costs, even at e expense of other people's happiness.
There is simply no possibility left to define what happiness could mean in today's world. For example, for a drug addict, the next hit serves his pleasure best but surely wouldn't serve the concept of happiness we all agree on.
Happiness economics aims to measure our happiness in relation to material wealth fails to find the sense of happening and often produces strange discoveries.
The problem is studies rely on individual subjective assessments of their own happiness. But this self-report depends heavily on the individual and cultural conception of happiness.
So simply estimating your happiness on a scale from 0 - 10 without further specifications prudes subjective results. For instance, a clinically depressed person will have completely different perspectives on what a 0 or a 10 means than an optimist would.
Everyone can agree that these statics won't really tell much about the connection between wealth and happiness.
How the Greeks viewed happiness and wealth
As long as we exist, humans have searched for the meaning of happiness. When you look into the past, you can discover what ancient thinkers had to say about the topic.
Such thinker Aristotle saw the good life as an end in itself. For him, every species has its own final state of perfection, which each species develops towards.
For Aristotle, the good life is public, and politics and philosophy are considered leisure activities to be done for their own sake. This, he thought, was the best kind of social interaction.
But where does wealth come into play in the good life?
Aristotle's economy or oikonomika was just a material substance of familial household that provided families with goods necessary to have a good life.
However, he didn't ignore the exchange of goods for money which he called the natural art of wealth-getting.
In contrast, the unnatural art of usury exchanging goods for money transforms the means to produce the good life to an end in itself.
Marx called their use value( value based on utility) which is reduced to their exchange value or profit their sale generates.
According to Aristotle, usury corrupts society's function: warriors fight only for pay, doctors care rather about fees than their patients, etc.
He also worked about the nature of seeking wealth for its own sake. In a life centered around wealth, there is no final destination. There is simply always more money to be made.
What is required for a good life?
Things have changed since Aristotle's time. He laid the groundwork for what constitutes the good life. Modern society will see things a little differently. So what should you consider in the quest for the good life?
The basis goods, both material and immaterial, required for the good life have four characteristics:
1. They are universal means they aren't unique to particular parts of the world and have been maintained across different cultures throughout time. For example, across every culture, the value of protecting life in some form is consistent; murders are punished in every society.
2. They are Final. It means they aren't required other goods. For instance, a community is its own thing to strive for and isn't only the sum of self-serving individuals.
3. They're self-sufficient. No aspects of some other good are ends in themselves. Like deep friendships aren't part of other social groups such as workgroups. They're their own good!
4. They're indispensable. These goods, like your physical health, could be seriously harmed if you lose them.
We need health and security. We also need to understand, respect, and recognize our views and interests. Self-determination and autonomy are also important.
Friendship was so vital for the Greeks; they also cataloged stable affection relationships from platonic friendship to family to romance.
The harmony with nature makes us responsible for sustainable use of nature's wealth and don't recklessly destroy it.
A good life has from for leisure. To Greeks, leisure isn't just relaxation and rest. It is a free activity with a purpose and time to learn about things like art, philosophy, and morals.
How to reduce the pressure of consuming
In our history, we have built large governing bodies that are greatly invested in our lives. So what can politicians do to help their citizens create a good life?
A start would be a basic income meaning unconditional payment to all citizens that enable them to choose how and how much they work.
These are two objections to basic income
1. No one would work, and second, they can't afford it.
In a wealthy society, our goal should be to reduce work and make leisure more attractive.
The Nobel laureate James Meade showed a basic income could be financed through an intelligent combination of capital taxes and state-owned investment trusts.
Other options are currency trading or rent in the form of pollution permits such as carbon credits.
2. The pressure to consume must be reduced.
It is necessary to calm the fanatic desire to consume because keeping up with others is a primary factor for overwork. To slow it down is to have a progressive consumption or tax in place of an income tax.
For instance, while necessary items for life such as groceries wouldn't be taxes consumed, those who buy a jet or a fifth car would face heavy taxes on those purchases.
These taxes could be scaled progressively where the taxation level changes according to how necessary an item is. Such tax would promote saving over consumption and calm down impulse buys.
Advertising must also be reduced because it fuels the insatiably of want. For example, reforms could forbid companies from writing off ads as a business expense, making ads more expensive and less attractive.
These changes are only a part of the solution. Ultimately we decide whether we continue an unfilled life in pursuit of wealth or make necessary changes to achieve the good life.
How much money do you need to make?
We all want money. It is present in everyday life. Despite spending most of our hours working towards money, it's still taboo to talk about it.
We like to pretend that money isn't important to us. Surely money isn't the end goal. A common regret of people on the death beds is that they worked too hard chasing after the money, of course. Money still can't you a meaningful relationship or an experience. While money can't buy any of this, it makes things more accessible.
Is happiness not easier to archive once you know the bills are all taken care of? When you are able to give money to loved ones, something you know they deserve. More money often means more choice in terms of spending your time whatever with your loved ones or chasing the passion you had as a kid. In order to change the world, you will still need financial capital.
How much money should you be making, and how much is enough? Studies show that when you actually put a metric to a goal and maybe even write, you are more likely to archive it. People who picture a are 40% more likely to successfully archive it.
Life evaluation rises steadily with income. The more people earn, the more positively they think of life in general.
On the other hand, emotional well-being seems to plateau after an income of around 75000$. Until that figure for most people, each bit of income raised feels great, but after that, your day-to-day happiness won't go up that much.
What consists of a good life will definitely vary drastically in other worlds. Well being continues to rise beyond the 75000 mark,
So should we aim for astronomically high salaries in search of happiness?
An author Brad Stollery came up with an idea to answer these questions. How much money do you have to be paid right now to never receive another dollar of income from anyone else?
You might think that a straightforward experiment just aims for a really high number, somewhere in the hundred million or billion for most people. The catch is that the experiment runs in groups of 5 people and those who have the lowest number in mind will actually walk away with the money. The rest of the participants get nothing. The game theory at play here is actually quite interesting.
The thing about this experiment is that it puts two of your impulses against each other, and doing so forces you to be reasonable. Of course, you wanna aim for a high number, but you also want to win and have the money. This experiment talks about money paid as a sum, while most of the research looks at salaries.
Ask yourself this question and see what you come up with. The answer helps you visualize a target that you can work towards.
We all want happiness, but more income is easier said than done. When we are presented with an improved quality of life, we rapidly adapt to it and begin taking it for granted. It explains why most people chase in their 9 to 5 after that next raise because staying where you are, no matter if you make 5 or 7 figures a year, brings the feeling of old news.
Also, there is the element of comparison, which is the thief of joy. While you might make 7 figures, you won't be anything close to happy if you compare yourself with Elon Musk.
So if you simply make more money for making money's sake, you might get some joy out of assuming you are successful it is similar to a game. But this feeling faints when a person spends his hard-earned cash in a better way.
Buying time is often one of the best ways to spend your money because it allows you to focus on joyful experiences while offloading the aspect to someone else who will do them. The gig economy made this more accessible, allowing people to spend more time on the things that truly matter, even with a little less in the bank account.
It might mean paying someone to do dishes so you can read a book to your child, or it could mean purchasing a more expensive ticket to have shorter waiting times.
Can money buy happiness?
Material possessions also draw attention when it comes to the relation between happiness and wealth. The research is straightforward, spent on experiences, not things. Experiences are exclusive nobody can feel your emotion on that trip with your best friends. Nobody can buy that exclusively. Despite the passing of time for experiences, it can still last a lifetime.
Unlike valuable objects, which tend to break over time, experiences have only been more enjoyable in hindsight. The mind overlooks the small bumps in our adventures, the delayed flight or the bad wifi, and we remember only the good parts.
So instead of aiming for a certain income, it makes more sense to aim for experiences and pursue the ability to afford such experiences.
It doesn't mean material possessions can't be an experience. A new movie can be an experience or a cup of coffee. But that is for the individual to decide.
People often overestimate how happy they will be when they have that new thing. Though we have it, the feeling of satisfaction slowly goes away, and we are back where we started.
On that level, it might be difficult to accept that money can buy happiness or at least buy ways towards happiness. Didn't we know this all along?
Accumulating wealth is almost everybody's goal in today's capitalistic societies. But don't have to be that way. Western society is wealthy enough to lead us to a carefree and spirited life without working as much as we do. We must reduce our hunger for wealth and strive for the true values of the good life.
It is more important to realize what really matters people, experiences, and time. Think not only helps with your career choices and how much you want to invest chasing after that thing but also why generosity is vital and why you should strive for a more equitable future.
Rember, the only reason why any of us want money is to get rid of it in the end.